From Mid-Term Break Wearing a poppy bruise on the left temple, He lay in the four foot box as in a cot. No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear. A four foot box, a foot for every year.“ ” from "Mid-term break", Death of a Naturalist (1966)
Heaney was born on 13 April 1939, at the family farmhouse called Mossbawn, between Castledawson and Toomebridge in Northern Ireland; he was the first of nine children. In 1953, his family moved to Bellaghy, a few miles away, which is now the family home. His father, Patrick Heaney (d. October 1986), was the eighth child of ten born to James and Sarah Heaney. Patrick was a farmer, but his real commitment was to cattle dealing, to which he was introduced by the uncles who had cared for him after the early death of his own parents.
Heaney's mother, Margaret Kathleen McCann (1911–1984), who bore nine children, came from the McCann family. Her uncles and relations were employed in the local linen mill, and her aunt had worked as a maid for the mill owner's family. Heaney commented on the fact that his parentage thus contained both the Ireland of the cattle-herding Gaelic past and the Ulster of the Industrial Revolution; he considered this to have been a significant tension in his background. Heaney initially attended Anahorish Primary School; when he was twelve years old, he won a scholarship to St. Columb's College, a Roman Catholic boarding school situated in Derry. Heaney's brother, Christopher, was killed in a road accident at the age of four while Heaney was studying at St. Columb's. The poems "Mid-Term Break" and "The Blackbird of Glanmore" focus on his brother's death.